The peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) got off to a good start Tuesday morning (Oslo time), August 23, as negotiators from both parties agreed on three of five substantive issues, including a formal commitment to accelerate the process of forging a political settlement during term of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The negotiating panels only took four hours, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., to settle minor conflicting positions on the three substantive issues during a marathon session that was punctuated on several instances by laughter and light banter.
The three major issues that were settled are the:
* Affirmation of previously-signed agreements;
* Reconstitution of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) list; and
* Accelerated process for negotiations, including the timeline for the completion of the remaining substantive agenda for the talks: socio-economic reforms; political and economic reforms; and end of hostilities and disposition of forces, including the Joint Monitoring Committee.
"It was a frank and honest discussion among friends. We are candid with each other, knowing that we share the common agenda of peace," said Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III, concurrent chair of the government panel.
"There were heated discussions, at times, which are normal during negotiations. In fact, we have to call a break on several occasions to cool off. But the general atmosphere was cordial as the session was punctuated by laughter and light banter," Bello added.
He said all agreements signed during peace negotiations from the time of President Corazon Aquino up to the present were re-affirmed "subject to enhancements that may be mutually agreed upon later by both panels."
"We may need these enhancements in the future as we do not want to be tied down by the rigidity of the past. Learning from mistakes of the previous negotiations, we want to explore all options to move the process fast forward."
The agreements that were re-affirmed include The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992, Breukelen Joint Statement of 1994, the JASIG, and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).
To accelerate the pace of peace negotiations, both panels agreed to activate the Reciprocal Working Committee (RWC) on the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER), as well as the Reciprocal Working Groups (RWGs) on Political and Constitutional Reforms (PCR) and End of Hostilities-Disposition of Forces (EOH-DOF).
Bello explained that the RWC and the RWGs would hold simultaneous discussions on substantive issues separate from formal meetings being scheduled at the panel level.
"RWC and the RWGs may hold discussions on their own at the venue of their choice. We agreed that all RWC meetings will be held in Oslo, but RWG discussions may be held in the Philippines," he said.
Bello noted that both panels also agreed to exert best efforts to complete discussions on socio-economic reforms within six months so that a comprehensive agreement on the issue may be signed at the panel level.
On JASIG, both panels agreed to reconstitute the list of NDF consultants, who shall be immune from arrest in order to allow them to participate in the peace process.
The NDF leaders informed the government panel that the list would contain the names of 54 consultants who are classified as "publicly-known" and "assumed names" of 87 guerrilla leaders who are still underground but involved in the consultation for the peace process.
Bello said only two of the five issues up for discussion in the Oslo talks remain unresolved, but these would be negotiated on Thursday, August 25. These are the mode of interim ceasefire and amnesty proclamation for the release of all detained political prisoners, subject to concurrence by Congress. #